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Downtown hotel: Sheraton, condos in future

By Megan Workman
Chip Ellis
The Ramada Inn Downtown Charleston's 12th floor will be converted into four condominiums. Two will overlook the Kanawha River while the other two condos will have a panoramic city view. The condos are planned to be more than 2,000 square feet each, said Steve Obermayer, chief financial officer of BBL Hospitality.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A downtown Charleston hotel is negotiating a franchise switch -- to Sheraton -- and plans to convert the 12th floor to four condominiums, among several other renovations.The Ramada Inn Downtown Charleston, formerly the Charleston House Hotel, has a 10-year agreement with Ramada -- but they're allowed to terminate that agreement in the spring of 2013, after 18 months, said Stephen Obermayer, chief financial officer of BBL Hospitality.The Albany, N.Y.-based company bought the 256-room hotel from a Philadelphia real estate holding company in September, and plans to spend more than $15 million on the renovations.Obermayer said they are still in the application process with Sheraton, but he hopes the hotel will switch to the high-end franchise. This would be the first Sheraton hotel for BBL Hospitality. The company owns 14 hotels in New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Florida. The company manages 10 of those properties under several brands, including Hilton Garden Inn, Residence Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Homewood Suites."Sheraton seems to be a perfect fit. We're in negotiations with them right now but we're hopeful," Obermayer said. "We would consider some other hotel brands as well. We're going to do a Sheraton at some point and I want it to be this one."BBL Carlton of Charleston, an affiliate of BBL Hospitality, began the renovations, which are on schedule, in September. The full-service hotel plans to renovate the lobby, guest rooms, meeting rooms, and all public areas.BBL Carlton just recently moved its Charleston office from the Huntington Bank building to the hotel's second floor at 600 Kanawha Blvd. E. -- the first floor of the hotel to be completely renovated.The next renovations will start on the 10th floor, and workers will work their way down to subsequent floors, said Keith McClanahan, senior vice president of BBL Carlton. The 11th floor will not be renovated until they see how much of a demand the 12th floor condos will have, Obermayer said. The hotel will remain open for business throughout the entire renovation process, which is expected to take 18 months. "We want to do an economic analysis to see what the demand for condos are," Obermayer said.Two of the 12th-floor 2,000-plus square-foot condos will overlook Haddad Riverfront Park and the Kanawha River while the other two condos will have a panoramic city view facing Virginia Street East.This is the first time BBL Hospitality has put condos in a hotel, Obermayer said.Condo residents will have access to "whatever they want," Obermeyer said, including housekeeping, the fitness center, a swipe card for the condo's personal elevator, and a parking spot in the parking garage that has room for 258 vehicles.
Since the condo concept is in such an early stage -- tables and chairs still clutter the 12th floor restaurant and bar, which has been closed for years -- Obermayer said they could "without a doubt" cater to interested buyers' design specifications.While there have been interested patrons, Obermayer said the condos won't be available until next year. The process will take a while before they can offer the condos, he said, considering they still have to form a Condominium Association and get approval from the Attorney General's office."A struggle for most cities is: how do you get people to live in the city? You live in the city because it's convenient -- you can walk to entertainment venues and to eat dinner," Obermayer said. "This is the best location in the city. There's a big demand to live in the state's capital and we're a straight run to the Capitol."
"It's in the heart of things and it has a beautiful view," McClanahan said.McClanahan and Obermayer said they're not concerned about losing guest rooms to build the condos. The 256-room hotel will now have nearly 200 rooms with three two-room suites on each floor. The size of the hotel allows them to try different things so decreasing the number of guest rooms isn't an issue, he said."We're not giving up much. Seventy-five percent occupancy is benchmark and we're still going to have an excess of that. There's a real movement toward mixed-used facilities," Obermayer said.The Recovery Sports Grill -- part of a chain of sports-themed restaurants -- is another way the hotel is using its space to offer customers more dining options.Now that the first step in the renovation process is complete -- the second floor renovations are finished -- demolition has begun on the restaurant. The 7,000-square-foot restaurant will be built on the hotel's first floor and have an entrance on Virginia Street East. The Recovery Sports Grill will open in July.Obermayer said the hotel will also focus on renovations that can have an immediate impact on the customer including new phones, HVAC systems and four new modern, gearless elevators.
"When this is a full-service Sheraton and everything is done, then people will be able to assess the value. We have to progress it a little further before [condos] are offered," Obermayer said.Reach Megan Workman at or 304-348-5113. 
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